How do you feel about substitutions? Do always cut up your garlic or do you sometimes take a scoop from the jar? Do you make your beef stock from scratch or do you have a favorite boxed brand? Do you always put real cream in your coffee or do use a “creamer?”
This week I started to think about this topic (actually I thought about it last week but my dog was sick and have any time to write). I love to go for sushi and I LOOOOOVE wasabi. It has always been amazing to me that every restaurant has a different zing to their wasabi.
You could chalk it up to where it was grown, the age of it or how it was grated but let’s be honest….a majority of American restaurants aren’t giving you REAL wasabi. They are giving us a substitution of horseradish, maybe some dried mustard, starch and green food coloring. (There are many different variations of the “fake” stuff….read their labels…some actually have REAL wasabi in them.)
With that said, I still like the quick nose clearing burn the replacement options and the mystery of how it will differ everywhere I eat. (Yep, the thrill is real!)
There are some chefs who use a powder that they mix with water. It’s “fire” is pretty dependent on how diluted they make the powder. There is also a paste option that comes in a tube which always seems a bit more sinus seductive but it always seems to “wet” to me.
So, what is REAL wasabi? I found one recently on one of my specialty store scavenger hunts. It is a little, bumpy root vegetable. It does resemble horseradish which makes sense because they are in the same botanical family. (Mustard is in that family too.)
It grows in a stream bed and is a pretty hard crop to cultivate….which is why most of us have never seen a wasabi root…..but if you are lucky enough to find one…ignore the price and try it just so you can check that box off the list.
Any wasabi you plan on using will need to be used immediately after you prepare it. (You’ve got 10-15 minutes to enjoy the optimal flavor.) You’ll take your root wash it off and peel off the bumpy skin…but if you aren’t planning on using the whole thing…just peel the amount you want to grate.
There are specialty graters made just for wasabi but since most of us will only use it once or twice in our lives, I’d use a microplane. (And you if you don’t have microplane…get one because they are great for zesting fruit, cheese and garlic.)
Grate off what you need per dish (depending on your audience you may only need a teaspoon per dish). Take a little taste. I found that I got a smaller hit of the quick heat but it was the “finish” that was phenomenal. It was cleaner and tasted more “herby”. (The surrogate ones always lay a little flat on my palate.)
What are you going to cook when you do find one? Wasabi is crazy versatile. Think of it a little like what would you want to add a little zing too? You can add it to a basic rice bowl to jazz it up or to a fish dish with a fun wasabi butter sauce. You can even go fusion-esque and add it to your guacamole. I even grated a little over a salad.
Let me know if you try it. Sorry I don’t have a real recipe this week but I was so busy being a nurse to Scout that I don’t even remember eating last week. (And no, eating fresh wasabi isn’t what made my dog sick.)